Bridport & West Dorset News, Views, Videos & Curiosities

Amanda Wallwork: a blast from the past

THE PAST is always with us and we live among its remains.

Amanda Wallwork paints history. Her work examines time’s accretions, arranges the results in orderly patterns and puts them on display as if her pieces were true museum artefacts, impregnated with the significance of the past.

Ancient landscapes and archaeological remains have fascinated Wallwork since childhood. The marks that people leave behind on objects and places are proofs of existence that tell stories about their lives. Wallwork’s thoughtful pieces present fragments from histories whose original meaning has been reduced to a mood or gesture.

A curator’s impulse to collect and arrange is evident in Wallwork’s torn paper paintings, which are built up from layers of dense watercolour on heavyweight paper, then torn off and mounted onto a backing sheet. Smaller pieces are framed behind glass while larger ones are presented on deep-sided relief panels. The process of construction and method of display turn her works into three-dimensional relics; objects literally ripped from their original setting and re-contextualised as sacred symbols. Each offers a route into a potent and primitive past where people and animals are bound by their close relationship to the earth. Together, the images can be read as encoded stories whose fragmented mythic meanings are intended to awake instinctual longings.

Certain primitive marks and forms re-occur throughout, mostly rendered in strong colours that relate to a global range of influences. Wallwork’s iconography employs universal symbols common to many cultures at different times. Shapes are frequently derived from patterns in the landscape as shown by aerial views of ancient hillforts or field systems. These abstractions can be interpreted as maps of time rendered in a symbolic form.

Wallwork is currently engaged on a new series of work looking closer at the passage of time. Again, the method of construction is an essential element. She covers wooden blocks with plaster mixed with natural pigment and then paints them with a layer of domestic emulsion. She works over the surface, applying oil paint, gouging and scarifying the accumulated deposits. Often, she polishes the blocks until they retain a leathery gleam, revealing a history of time displayed in terms of archaeological layers. Without frames or glass, these pieces focus attention on the artefacts themselves. The museum cabinet walls have dissolved and we too are inside the display case with history.

Editor’s Note: The text above was first published in 2002 in a handsome little booklet produced as part of a project called TM1 (short for tenminusone). TM1 featured nine artists based in West Dorset, each of whom had a little essay written about them by Sara Hudston, although her name didn’t appear.

The scheme (as far as I can remember) had two aims. First, to try to promote the careers of individual artists. Second, to improve the economy of West Dorset by showing it to be an attractive, creative place – somewhere worth visiting and worth doing business.

The scheme was funded by West Dorset District Council, South West Arts, and the South West of England Regional Development Agency.

(Incidentally, not one of these organisations still exists in the form it did then; West Dorset District Council has merged with Weymouth & Portland Borough Council, the RDA is being abolished, South West Arts is now Arts Council England South West.)

Amanda Wallwork got an exhibition in Manchester following the publication of the booklet about her.

The whole project has now been almost entirely forgotten, and the TM1 booklets are extraordinarily rare pieces of printed ephemera.

Now, clearly I’m biased, as I’m married to Sara Hudston, but it’s long seemed to me that her short essays were excellent pieces of work that deserve to be re-published and read.

So here is the first. Jonathan Hudston

TM1 biographical note

Amanda Wallwork was brought up in a creative household surrounded by art and artists (her father is the ceramicist Alan Wallwork).

In 1966 the family moved to Dorset, whose ancient landscape rich in archaeology provided an early source of inspiration. Wallwork took a foundation course in art and design at Yeovil College followed by a BA Hons in graphic design and illustration at Brighton Polytechnic. She then worked as a freelance designer and illustrator, writing and illustrating many children’s picture books. Wallwork was a founder member of the regional artists’ group Sherborne Contemporary Arts and has curated many of its exhibitions.

Since 1996 she has been concentrating on developing and exhibiting new art work influenced by her childhood. She says: “Visits to dusty museums as a child stimulated my fascination for ancient artefacts and with the way they are displayed, the stories hinted at by those trapped moments in time stored behind glass.”

Note added 2011: Amanda Wallwork now lives in West Bay near Bridport. She’s got a show coming up at Bridport Arts Centre next year from 14 July until 11 August, featuring her latest work for the project ‘Mapping the Jurassic Coast‘. Jeremy Gardiner will also be exhibiting in the Allsop Gallery.